My Continuing Profile of the Lord Protector is also the Story of John Buchan’s masterful 1934 Biography ‘Oliver Cromwell’…

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A reflective Cromwell. Image: The Daily Telegraph

By the time John Buchan wrote his biography of Oliver Cromwell he was an extraordinarily successful historian and novelist, whose spy thrillers would influence the majority of the coming generations of thriller writers. He was also a director of a thriving publishing company, and a man who would soon become a much loved Governor General of Canada.


Melville had to fight, fight against the existing world, against his own very self.” D.H. Lawrence

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Melville. Image: Library of America

I’ve recently read Jay Parini’s excellent novel The Passages of Herman Melville, which sent me scurrying back to Van Wyck Brooks’ The Times of Melville & Whitman, an almost revolutionary volume first published in 1947, and where Brooks writes:

Herman Melville, as a little boy who dreamed of distant voyages, had delighted in the wharves and the warehouses and the shipping of New York, the yo-heave-ho of the seamen, the old anchors in the streets, but, descending the Hudson from Albany, with a dollar in his pocket, to sail himself, he had felt already somewhat defiant and embittered.


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Image: magnoliabox.com

Late on Christmas Eve 1926 Police Commander John Parker was summoned to the home of Margaret Swann, the widow of his old boss Herbert Merriman Swann, one of the finest policemen that ever lived.

“ John, thank you for coming.”

“ Is something wrong?”

“ No, nothing is wrong. It’s just that I’ve I come across this small notebook which I think you should have. I know that Scotland Yard have asked you to privately investigate the fire at the Memorial Theatre, and I think you might find this notebook of interest. ”

“ How did you know that I…


“…a new wave of sax players were coming and going in Kansas City.”

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Charlie Parker. Image: New York Daily News

Ross Russell’s 1973 biography of jazz musician, Charlie Parker, is as much a history of 1930s America, as it is post-war America. It is also the history of a nation seen from the point of view of not just Parker, but most working jazz musicians of those periods. And when writing about the post-war era, Russell (picking up on a riff from Norman Mailer’s 1957 essay, The White Negro) writes:

“ If the new language was exotic, by contrast behavior had become curiously circumspect. Loud voices were frowned down, as were hurried, headlong (frantic) actions…Dress tended to become neater and…


A Truly Fine Short Story That Became Two Hollywood Movies

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Image: The Daily Beast

Hemingway’s short Story, ‘The Killers’, was first published in Scribner’s Magazine in 1927 (not long after his first novel, The Sun Also Rises, was published in 1926), with the story later included as one of the fourteen that made up Hemingway’s second volume of short stories, Men without Women, and as Carlos baker writes, Hemingway’s:

“…fame was clearly growing among the reading public. As Perkins [Hemingway’s editor] had predicted, the novel [The Sun Also Rises] kept its momentum well beyond the Christmas holidays. …


The BBC said it couldn’t be done…

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Steve Devey is Oliver Cromwell. Photo: Phil Jarrett

Many years ago I sent a radio play of mine called Ancient Pinnacles to the BBC (at their request) about the American poet Walt Whitman. And although they liked it they informed me that their schedules were full, sorry. Not to worry, I said, I’ll start my own theatre company, and get it staged that way. Their reply was that people didn’t start theatre companies anymore.

Some months later I was at a party. It was a glorious summer’s afternoon in the garden of a house in Stratford, where I was introduced to…


Cornish Roots

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David Lean. Image: Londonist

A couple of years ago, here on Medium, I wrote a history of what eventually became David Lean’s masterpiece, Lawrence of Arabia, a film that re-set the cinematic bar very high indeed. Since then only one or two film makers have come close, the majority have not. So what was it that made the boy from South London so very, very good? The heart and eye of an artist is the best I can come up with.

Lean’s heritage, on both sides, is Cornish. His mother, Helena Annie Tangye, was known as “the beauty of the Tangyes…”, a…


A World Away, and A Child of Bliss

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Mervyn and Maeve. Image: BBC

In 2008 my wife and I organised the first Stratford-upon-Avon International Festival of Literature. Sebastian Peake was one of our guests; a charming man who spoke lovingly, and in depth, about his father, the writer and artist Mervyn Peake, and his mother, the artist Maeve Gilmore.

Sebastian’s memoir, A Child of Bliss, and Maeve Gilmore’s own memoir of her life with Mervyn, A World Away, seems, for me, something of a reiteration of Mervyn Peake’s own nature, even when suffering so badly toward the end of his life.

Perhaps still best known…


Books by Isobel Charman and Arthur Marwick

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A Munitions Factory. Image: BBC

On the last Saturday in March, the well-to-do of Edwardian society gathered along the banks of the River Thames for the first society sporting event of the season: the University Boat Race. The press had been hyping it up for weeks. The Oxford team, which had generally been considered the poorer, had been performing exceptionally well in training and suddenly the stage seemed set for a great contest. Crowds flooded in to West London to witness the spectacle. Ladies donned hats laden with flowers and feathers; gentlemen wore frock coats and silk hats, the more daring also sporting brightly coloured…


Charles Dickens Gets In The Groove with Jazz Musician and Composer John Dankworth

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Charles Dickens. Image: Mirror

It might seem a bit improbable for the British Jazz musician and composer, John Dankworth, to tackle the work and characters of 19th century novelist Charles Dickens. But anything was possible in the 1960s. Charles was having a bit of a renaissance, with new paperback editions of his novels lining the shelves, several TV adaptations filling the weekend slots, plus films and musicals, most obviously Lionel Bart’s Oliver. Perhaps it was time for Dickens to get in the jazz groove?

I must have discovered John Dankworth around the same time as I did Charles Dickens (late 50s, early 60s), with…

Steve Newman Writer

Playwright, Historian, Biographer & Freelance Writer Living and Working in Shakespeare’s Stratford

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